UAW-FCA deal appears headed for defeat

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

For the first time in 33 years, it appears that United Auto Workers rank-and-file with Chrysler have defied leadership’s recommendation and rejected a tentative contract with the automaker.

Large majorities of workers voting against the deal at Toledo Assembly and Sterling Heights Assembly on Tuesday seem to have mathematically sealed the deal’s fate; at least seven large local UAW chapters representing between 1,000 and 6,000 hourly workers have had majorities vote against the contract. Only a handful of locals are known to have had more than 50 percent of workers support the deal.

The rejection is nearly unprecedented in today’s modern automotive industry, outside a special situation in 2009 when Ford Motor Co. workers overwhelming voted against a deal during mid-contract bargaining following the bankruptcies of Chrysler (now known as FCA US) and General Motors.

A UAW spokesman Wednesday said the union was not commenting while voting is ongoing, and a FCA spokeswoman declined comment.

Results for about half of the roughly 35 Fiat Chrysler locals voting across the country are known, with workers at many large facilities overwhelmingly voting against the deal. If the pact is indeed voted down, it would be the first time Chrysler workers have rejected an agreement since 1982.

Local 1700 in Sterling Heights reported 72 percent of production workers and 65 percent of skilled trades employees cast ballots against the contract. Charles Bell, UAW Local 1700 president, told The News in an email that approximately 90 percent of the facility’s more than 3,000 workers voted on the tentative deal.

At Local 12 in Toledo, 87 percent of production workers and 80 percent of skilled trades employees rejected the pact, according to results posted on social media that were confirmed by a member.

Sterling Heights and Toledo Assembly were seen as critical parts to the contract’s potential ratification heading into Tuesday; about two-thirds of the union’s 40,000 members impacted by the deal had voted before that day. If there were landslides at those assembly plants against the pact, it could have sent the contract to defeat.

Some locals are still voting and full results have not been released by the UAW. Belvidere Assembly, with more than 4,000 hourly workers, and Warren Stamping, with nearly 1,800 employees, are two of the last facilities to vote on the proposed pact Wednesday.

The results from Toledo and Sterling Heights followed international UAW leadership calling local union leaders with Fiat Chrysler from across the country to meet Thursday in Warren, two sources familiar with the situation told The Detroit News. They likely will discuss the union’s next move.

Many Fiat Chrysler workers have voiced displeasure with the proposed deal, saying it does not eliminate the two-tier pay system, fails to cap entry-level hires, doesn’t do enough to address alternative work schedules and doesn’t increase wages enough.

“It should be equal pay for equal work,” said Jennifer Daubenmeyer, a tier-two worker at Toledo Assembly. We’d like to see an opportunity at some point to get to the point to what they’re making. We’re not asking for it right now.”

Under the proposed deal, there would essentially be four wage, or classification, systems: veteran workers at about $28 an hour or more; current tier-two topping out at $25.35 an hour; and Mopar and axle operators at $22 and $22.35, respectively.

It includes $3,000 ratification bonuses (down from $3,500 in 2011); wage hikes for both wage tiers of plant workers; hefty profit-sharing based on the company’s North American operations; and $5.3 billion in plant investments. It narrows pay gaps between entry and veteran workers.

Others in Toledo also have been concerned with the agreement not benefiting the retirees enough.

“I know we’re not Ford; I know we’re not GM,” said Danyel Garcia, hired to Toledo Assembly in 2007. “We don’t have the money they have, but we have enough to take care of our people.”

Voting at the last plants also was expected to be some of the most contentious, as they are the main players involved in a $5.3 billion investment plan under the deal that sources say includes a product shuffle that would send nearly all car production to Mexico in exchange for more profitable SUVs and pickups.

Many Toledo Assembly workers were concerned about the production shake-up, which would allow Toledo to keep its prized Jeep Wrangler, but move the hot-selling Jeep Cherokee to Belvidere Assembly to make more room for Wrangler production.

Neither the union nor company have confirmed the product moves, which also includes moving production of two cars to Mexico — the Chrysler 200 currently built at Sterling Heights Assembly, and the Dodge Dart currently built at Belvidere. In return, Sterling Heights would get the Ram 1500 pickup from Warren Truck, and Warren would get the Jeep Wagoneer — a three-row SUV that isn’t due out until at least 2018.

“It wasn’t expected,” said Doug Thabit, a 32-year veteran worker at Toledo Assembly Complex, said about the potential loss of the Cherokee. “(Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne) came here to Toledo and said he wants to maintain as many jobs as possible here. It’s surprising.”

At least three scenarios could unfold if ratification fails: Union leaders could head back to the negotiating table with Fiat Chrysler and its unpredictable CEO, Sergio Marchionne; a strike or multiple strikes could occur; or the union could switch its attention to Ford or GM.

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